Developing and improving fitness with both cardiovascular exercises and strength training exercises is recommended in pregnancy. Due to the various physiological and anatomical changes that occur in pregnancy, the type of exercise you choose needs to consider 2 important factors:
- Safety – to both yourself and your baby
- Comfort – especially as the pregnancy progresses.
Activities such as walking, jogging/running, hiking, low-impact aerobics, swimming, cycling – stationary/spinning, rowing, cross country skiing and dancing have not been shown to have any negative effects in pregnant women. However, in the presence of pelvic instability symptoms namely sacro-iliac joint pain or pelvic girdle pain – activities such as walking may aggravate the condition.
The type of exercise you choose in pregnancy should suit your skills, abilities and preference.
There is a general consensus that following activities should be avoided in pregnancy:
- Scuba diving: The foetus is at increased risk for decompression sickness at all stages of pregnancy.
- Exercise at altitudegreater than 6000 feet: The shortage of oxygen to the mother at this level also poses a risk to the baby
- Any activities that have a greater risk for contact or falling and could therefore result in trauma to either the mother or the foetus e.g. soccer, gymnastics
- Motionless standing– this can cause a drop in blood pressre.
Exercises that require you to lie flat on your back are also not recommended after 16 weeks of pregnancy. This is because in this position, your ever-growing uterus compresses a major vein in your body and may cause you to fell dizzy and faint.
Research on strength training during pregnancy is limited, however there is consensus that using relatively low weights through a dynamic range of movement is a safe and effective form of resistance training. Conditioning exercises help maintain posture and prevent low back pain. It is important to have correct technique, and breathing – make sure you breathe out on the action of the muscle and never hold your breath.
Lastly, make sure that you take your pelvic floor into account.These muscles are important for controlling continence. They are attached to the pelvic bone and act like a hammock, holding in your pelvic organs. They stretch from your pubic bone in the front to your tailbone in your back and help support the bladder, rectum and uterus. When exercising always make sure to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor – by holding in gas, then urine and finally draw your baby to your spine.
Source: Dr Etti Barsky (MBBCh, MSC Sports Science), the training director of Preggi Bellies South Africa